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America May Have Talent, But You Have Me
July 1

Also available as a podcast. Click to listen!

We start this week with a little memory jog. Remember the writer’s strike, and the resulting ratings drop and how Hollywood is still being affected by it? And how the SAG strike may cripple Hollywood even further. Well, we have a war between actors who want the deal AFTRA negotiated approved, to the ones who do not.

From the Hollywood Reporter: The battle of dueling A-listers heated up Tuesday as SAG enlisted 67 actors -- including Jack Nicholson, Ben Stiller and Martin Sheen -- to back its campaign against the ratification of AFTRA's tentative pact with the studios and networks. The move comes just days after Tom Hanks, Kevin Spacey and more than 100 other guild members went on record in support of AFTRA's contract and urged a "yes" vote on its ratification.

For SAG, which completed its 37th negotiating session with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers on Tuesday, the AFTRA ratification vote is crucial. The guild will have little leverage at the bargaining table if AFTRA's pact is approved; if it's voted down, the membership will have sent a strong signal that it is committed to achieving more.

The issues splitting the unions, as well as factions of SAG, are wages, pension and health contributions; residuals for all new media; no non-union media productions; protections from product integration; an increase in DVD residuals; and preserving force majeure protections. Those opposing ratification of AFTRA's pact say the gains in its tentative deal are not enough.

Meanwhile, SAG's national executive committee has voted to seek an extension to the union's TV/theatrical contract, which expires Monday. The move is not surprising, as the guild's chief negotiator Doug Allen has said he expects talks to continue past the deadline. AFTRA brokered its tentative deal with the AMPTP on May 28. Members are now voting on whether to ratify the contract, with results expected July 8. A simple majority is needed for approval.

AFTRA has about 70,000 members overall, which makes the math for SAG extremely difficult, at least in theory. It would need to convince more than 35,000 of the 44,000 dual cardholders -- almost 80% -- to vote against the deal, assuming the other 26,000 or so would vote to approve it.

Then again, member response to referenda and elections has been historically low, often less than 30%, so nothing is certain. And it is because of that low voter turnout that both unions have been waging their campaigns for or against the AFTRA contract. The executive committee, which was bitterly divided over the anti-AFTRA campaign, was nearly unanimous in backing the extension request. Tension arose later in the meeting, however, when members of the New York and other regional factions, who have endorsed the AFTRA contract, demanded to know what the plan for SAG would be if AFTRA members ratified the contract.

"It's absolutely dead certain that AFTRA will not go back to the table with SAG under any circumstances," said a source with knowledge of the meeting. "For Doug Allen to be making statements to the contrary is absolutely intentionally misleading the membership."

A spokesman for the AMPTP said Tuesday that the group had received no request for an extension.

SAG also has posted several videos from high-profile members on its Web site. Sheen and Ed Harris deliver 30-second video statements that say they "support the negotiating team." Viggo Mortensen taped a longer video explaining his unhappiness with AFTRA. "In the current issues we are dealing with, I would say that AFTRA is one of the main stumbling blocks," a somber Mortensen says. "I'm sorry to say that." Mortensen adds that he's considering withdrawing from AFTRA temporarily and tells viewers, "If you don't take part, you will get screwed. And I don't intend to get screwed."

In response to the trade ads, an AFTRA spokeswoman said "thousands" of AFTRA members, as well as SAG board members in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and the labor community, support the union's contract.

"Yet, SAG's Hollywood leadership continues down its dysfunctional path, spending its members' dues in a misguided effort to attack another union and undermine a solid contract," the spokeswoman said. "For our part, we remain focused on educating AFTRA members about the facts and the merits of their new agreement so they can make an informed decision. We are confident that they will see through this latest politically motivated effort and ultimately ratify the AFTRA contract and help keep our industry working."

AFTRA was the first to enlist top actors to back its cause, sending out phone messages to its members from actors including Sally Field and James Cromwell last week. SAG followed with a "robo" phone calls by "Grey's Anatomy" star Sandra Oh, urging AFTRA members to vote no.

Will Hollywood get it’s act in gear...or are we in for a long long summer? Stay tuned.


We go from the established talent, to talent that wants exposure. It’s the return of America’s Got Talent. Or how I call it...America’s Got Talent...the way we want to show it. The show has been using editing techniques to make things appear in one way, when they were actually another.

To remind you, fellow columnist Gordon Pepper and I were in the audience for a lot of the New York Auditions. And yes, you could clearly see us there. And now that the auditions have been broadcast, let me let you in on what REALLY happened.

–One of the biggest performers from the week one auditions was four year old Kaitlyn Maher singing "Somewhere Out There". First of all, when she sang–it was ACAPELLA...without the beautiful keyboard arrangement. This was even more impressive. But why they didn’t show it that way...I have no idea...they could have masked it in some other way. And they also didn’t show her mom and dad being interviewed by the judges to make sure they weren’t stage parents.

–Last night, we saw a group of bad magicians which included a magician which auditioned in New York, but magically appeared in the Chicago auditions.

–And finally, we saw Jonathan and Charlotte Pendragon, a world famous magic troupe who have had 14 primetime magic specials (including three World’s Greatest Magic specials for NBC), produced a magic show for Universal Studios, as well as others during their 30 year career. They should have not been allowed to perform. Now, I bet you are saying...but Jason, Bianca Ryan sang the National Anthem (more on her in a second) and did musical theater. Yes, that’s true. But the Pendragons are a world famous name who have had the opportunity to make it and still do. I am glad Jonathan has fully recovered from his accident. But, I am sorry...I wouldn’t have put him there.

These are some bad decisions which my have some undue influence on the voting public. Let us see who gets to the top 20.


Speaking of Bianca Ryan, we have a journal entry from her which may explain why she has pretty disappeared (sans a few appearances for Radio Disney): "There are several things I would like to explain to you to clear up what has been happening with my career. It has been a very difficult year for me because of my schedule and my schoolwork but I have managed to maintain my straight "A" average. It has been especially stressful for my dad who has had to do almost all the work when it came to my career which takes up almost his entire day. The reason for this was because the manager that was assigned to help to develop my career was never around when anyone needed him to put things together for me. He disappeared back in June of last year and hasn’t returned a call or an email to my father since than. Since we were in a contract with him we couldn’t ask anyone else to help us so my dad took over things and worked hard to keep me busy. Thank God for my entertainment attorney (Brad Rubens) who was able to get me out of the contract with this manager.

I am no longer with Sony Records due in part to the manager assigned to me who lacked the proper plan and vision for my career, so now it is really like I’m starting all over again except for the fact that millions of people have seen my videos on the internet and I have such a loyal fan base throughout the entire world like you all here, which is a huge blessing for me. I am going to press forward now and put the past year behind me. I have already asked God to forgive the manager and everyone that tried to stop me from moving forward. I am hoping to find a new manager and record label that will put a plan together to strengthen me as an artist and develop my direction and career properly. Please be patient and expect exciting things to come in the next couple of months. I am very excited about some of the projects that I am working on. Thanks so much and I’ll be checking in with all of you soon and letting you know what I am up to."


A funny appearance from Piers Morgan on the Howard Stern Sirius Radio show: This is from Foxnews.com: Piers Morgan apologized Wednesday for introducing Paul McCartney to Heather Mills and dissed fellow "America's Got Talent" judge David Hasselhoff's spray-on tans.

Morgan told Howard Stern on his radio show that he didn't know Mills would turn out to be a "grasping, gold-digging little bimbo ... I was fooled into thinking that she was a good person." The acid-tongued Brit also hassled the Hoff, calling his co-judge a "tool." Morgan recounted a day when Hasselhoff "went out and got a spray tan in the middle of the shoot, so it looks like he tanned during a commercial break. "His face had gotten orange," Morgan said. "The audience is going to say, 'Well, David Hasselhoff has gotten a tan halfway through the show.'"


And finally...from across the pond....from Reuters: The Simon Cowell-produced movie about a rags-to-riches reality music star is moving ahead at Paramount. "One Chance" is a comedy-drama based on opera singer Paul Potts' last-ditch effort to make a career in music by competing on the "Britain's Got Talent" television show.

The mobile-phone salesman was riddled by a streak of bad luck when, on a lark, he auditioned for "Talent" in 2007. His on-air performances bowled over audiences and judges, including the famously caustic Cowell. He won the show and become a media and YouTube sensation, eventually going on a global music tour and releasing an album.

Cowell, the British music magnate who brought "American Idol" and "America's Got Talent" to these shores, is making his studio debut with "Chance." He also is developing "Star Struck," a scripted tale about a musical reality show that has not yet been set up at a studio.


This next segment is the Block Party Complaint Department. The show, yet again, is The Next Food Network Star 4. This show has been disappointing me a little bit this year, and it is not the big things. Little things have just been sticking at me for a while. And this week, another element reared its head.

Every week in the elimination room one or more of the contestants has broken down emotionally and turned the elimination into a weep fest. One week, Nipa pulls a hissy fit and leaves. Other weeks, some contestants get emotional about meeting Martha Stewart or just surviving the round.

Here’s the deal. I get emotional. We all have our emotional moments, and I am not saying that I want the contestants to be cold fish(pun semi-intended.) But, come on, how are you going to handle the pressures of real life kitchens and a TV show when you can’t handle the pressure of being criticized?

I just hope the remaining contestants can handle the pressure. And I hope the Food Network realizes this show succeeds because it balances cooking with drama. The scales are gently starting to tip.


We have more pilot news to report: From the Hollywood Reporter: GSN has tapped Kim Coles and stand-up comedian Judy Gold to host the pilots for "The Dating Game" and "The Newlywed Game," respectively.

The cable network is prepping new versions of the popular 1970s game shows, which are Sony-owned titles, that will incorporate modern elements like online dating sites. Michael Davies is executive producing both shows through his overall deal at Sony Pictures TV.

As for the hosts, GSN senior VP of Programming Jamie Roberts said this month that the network was looking for "unusual candidates to take these shows and reinvent them."

"Newlywed" often is identified with Bob Eubanks, who hosted most of the show's incarnations, though Jim Lange, Paul Rodriguez and Gary Kroeger were featured in some editions. "Dating" has been hosted by Lange, Elaine Joyce, Jeff MacGregor, Brad Sherwood and Chuck Woolery.


And the big news is who is filling the celeb slots in the Match Game Pilot which was shot last week. From Reuters: Is Sarah Silverman the new Brett Somers? Could Norm MacDonald be the next Richard Dawson? The comedians have signed on to be on the panel for TBS' updated "Match Game" pilot, shot this week in Los Angeles. Also taking seats are Bob Einstein, a.k.a. comic stuntman Super Dave Osborne, Kids in the Hall trouper Scott Thompson, Rashida Jones ("The Office") and Niecy Nash ("Reno 911!").

Andrew Daly ("Semi-Pro") hosted the pilot for the cable channel.

"Match Game," in which contestants try to match missing words in a given phrase with a panel of celebrity guests, originally debuted in 1962. Several incarnations followed, and the format reached its naughty heyday with the Gene Rayburn-hosted version in the 1970s -- once the questions were tweaked to allow for a generous amount of double-entendre humor. The game is played by two contestants and a panel of six celebrities. Each contestant attempts to match the most celebrities in a series of fill-in-the-blank questions, such as "Sam is so short, he makes _____ look tall."

Along with Somers and Dawson, Charles Nelson Reilly was another longtime regular on the show. Other panelists over the years included Vicki Lawrence, McLean Stevenson, Betty White, Orson Bean, Fannie Flagg and Nipsey Russell. The most recent version of "Match Game" ended its run in 1999. Reruns air regularly on cable network GSN, effectively exposing younger audiences to the format.

This is really really good stuff. Let’s hope they can let it rip and have a good time with it.


Bad news for fans of the show Crosswords. This is from Broadcasting & Cable: With low-rated game show Merv Griffin’s Crosswords going into production hiatus until at least the start of next year, Program Partners is offering three choices to TV stations that had already cleared the show for a second season.

In an initiative the company is calling "Daytime Plus," stations can air repurposed, "best-of" episodes of Crosswords out of the 225 that were shot; they can air Canadian reality program Style by Jury, for which Program Partners owns the rights to 165 episodes; or they can air pop-culture game show Inside the Box, of which Program Partners owns 195 episodes.

Program Partners is also offering stations a four-minute, 30-second local to 2:30 national barter split, including one full two-minute block to run inside the program, which gives stations an additional one minute of inventory in each half-hour program. A typical barter split is 3:30-3:30.

"TV stations will be the first to tell you they are suffering in daytime right now," said Ritch Colbert, principal of Program Partners. "This gives station one more opportunity to meet their year-end sales goals." Crosswords had been cleared in about 80% of the country for season two, Colbert added, so those stations will need to make programming decisions by this fall.

Program Partners and its production partners -- Merv Griffin Entertainment and the William Morris Agency -- decided over the past week to halt production because the costs were outweighing the returns. Meanwhile, Program Partners is bringing the already-produced Style by Jury and Inside the Box to the overall station market immediately.


Let’s look at some good news for the fall syndication market from Mediaweek, and we can thank Howie Mandel. The overall TV syndication upfront sales marketplace is more than 50% complete, with one syndicator, Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, more than 70% sold out of its 2008-09 ad inventory, according to buyers and sellers.

The studio sales teams are continuing to get 7%-9% cost-per-thousand increases for top-tier new and returning shows and 5%-7% for other programming, with daytime being the hot daypart.

"The Bonnie Hunt Show," from Warner Bros., has drawn a lot of buyer interest among the new daytime fare, as has "Deal or No Deal," NBC Universal Television Distribution's new half-hour version of NBC's primetime game show. Among the off-network sitcoms, Warners' "Two and a Half Men" has been popular among buyers, as has Twentieth Television's "Family Guy." Among the newly available dramas, NBC Universal's "House" has garnered solid pricing.

One reason Warners is getting even better pricing for "Bonnie Hunt" is that many stations are pairing it on their schedules with another popular Warners talker, "The Ellen DeGeneres Show."

Disney-ABC Domestic Television's new syndicated version of "Wizard's First Rule" also is receiving much buyer interest.

CBS Television Distribution continues to get strong interest for "The Oprah Winfrey Show." One rival syndicator said that despite the smaller successes of some of the other daytime talkers, "Oprah is still the queen. She still moves product."

One new CBS show that has been in less demand, buyers said, is "The Doctors," a talk show featuring medical professionals that is being produced by the son of Phil McGraw, star of CBS Television Distribution's talker "Dr. Phil."

Syndicators are doing more deals in this upfront, incorporating product integrations into their packages, particularly with their talk and entertainment shows. NBC Uni has done some product integration deals for "Deal," while Warners has done some for "Ellen," "Bonnie Hunt" and "The Tyra Banks Show."

Particularly strong categories include packaged goods, pharmaceuticals, movies and fast food.

Syndicators are expected to sell higher levels of ad inventory, much like the broadcast networks, which could boost the total syndication upfront total to about $2.4 billion, up 4.5% from last year.


We switch from business...to the business of home births. And Ricki Lake, formerly of Game Show Marathon, is in the crosshairs.

From the Associated Press: Ricki Lake is firing back at a physician's group that singled her out for bringing attention to at-home baby births.

The 39-year-old host of 2006's "Gameshow Marathon" is named in a recent statement by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists that says the home is not the safest setting for giving birth. In her film "The Business of Being Born," a documentary about the maternity care system that premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, Lake is shown giving birth in the bathtub of her Manhattan apartment to her second son Owen, who turns 7 on Wednesday.

The ACOG statement, supported in a resolution Tuesday by the American Medical Association, said, "There has been much attention in the media by celebrities having home deliveries," citing a "Today Show" headline that read "Ricki Lake takes on the baby birthing industry: Actress and former talk show host shares her at-home delivery in her new film."

"It's scary that both (the ACOG and the AMA) have sort of targeted me," Lake told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "And, you know, I'm all about choice. This is not unlike the abortion issue. I am pro-choice when it comes to childbirth and choices in birth. Home birth was around long before hospitals were taking over — and I just think women need to know (the information) so that they can make the best choice for them."

The AMA resolves in the statement to support state legislation "that helps ensure safe deliveries and healthy babies by acknowledging that the safest setting" is a hospital, connected birthing center or other approved facility. "There's a lot of provocative things that are said in the film," she said, "but I think it's very clear that we need doctors, we need the care and the technology that we have. But we also need to value the process of giving birth normally."


Another Big Brother season in London, another bunch of idiocy. Let’s hear it from thisislondon.com: Big Brother bully Alexandra De-Gale was in hiding at a secret hotel amid fears for her safety after she was booted off the Channel 4 show for apparently making 'gangster' threats. The 23-year-old single mom has gone to ground after concerns that she will face a violent backlash.

Producers decided on the surprise eviction after Alex was said to have warned housemates that if they voted her out they would be dealt with by her 'gangster friends'. Alex, from Croydon, has become the most hated contestant in the show. She received an official warning after verbally attacking fellow housemates Rebecca Shiner, 21, Stephanie McMichael, 19, and Rachel Rice, 24, in a row over burnt fries.

Alex also then shouted at Rex Newmark, 24, for borrowing her cigarette lighter, branded Mohamed Mohamed, 24, a 'disgrace' to Muslims after he dressed up as a woman, and accused blind Mikey Hughes, 33, of 'playing on his disability'.

But on Tuesday she told Darnell Swallow, 26, she would seek revenge against those who voted her out. 'Everyone's got to come out. I'm talking about my gangster friends. They got some instructions to follow out. I get to do the s**t I wanna do. Pow, pow, pow!"

The housemates' shock soon turned to relief - upon hearing that Friday's eviction was cancelled, they began applauding. A Channel 4 spokesman said: 'Alexandra De-Gale has been removed for repeatedly breaking the rules by behaving in an unacceptable and sometimes intimidating manner towards fellow housemates.' At approximately 8pm, Alex was called to the Diary Room where she was kept for half an hour before being removed from the house without any further contact with the others.

What an example to set to her child, right?


And to end the week, the random newsbits:

–Condolences go out to the families of Charlie Jones and George Carlin.

--Laila Ali’s "Student Body" debuts on "The N" on July 11.

–Mark Burnett will get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2009.

–The Project Runway lawsuit gets delayed until July 17.

–Janet Jackson does reality for MTV. And MTV is casting for a new pop culture game show .

–India has its first winner of it’s version of "Are You Smarter than a 5th grader?". And Power of 10 is a huge hit there.

–Family Feud is heading to the Serbian Market.

–"Gimme My Reality Show" will be on the Fox Reality show as D-Lister compete to get their own show! Yippee, Yappee, Yahooey!

–The Weinstein Brothers are shopping "Project Triple Threat"

–Millionaire is hosting auditions in Atlanta.

–Alison Sweeney is pregnant with her 2nd child.

–GSN is casting for the 2nd season of Bingo America.

–A show for recently divorced couples to win $1M is casting at realitywanted.com

–Miss Universe is going to be hosted by Mel B. and Jerry Springer.

–American Idol Season 6 Runner up Blake Lewis gets dropped by Arista.

–Capcom extends its deal with Millionaire through 2010 in North America.

–Wheel and Jeopardy have new versions coming to the Mac (that’s for you Gordon!)

–and in a surprise to no one, Million Dollar Password gets renewed for 6 more episodes.

That’s all for this time out, for the Block Party...I am Jason Block reminding you...don’t just play fair...play to win.

Jason Block's gangster friends are... well, we are his gangster friends... only we're not gangster. E-mail him at jb.regis@verizon.net.